Friday, July 29, 2011

crazy, stupid, love.

Best Scene In a 2011 H'wd Romantic Comedy? This One.

Emma Stone as Hannah and Ryan Gosling as Jacob in "crazy, stupid, love.", directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. 
Warner Brothers

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW
day, July 29, 2011

"Crazy, stupid, love." is crazy, stupid great.

Easily the best Hollywood romantic comedy of the year, "crazy, stupid, love." unfolds as wacky farce engulfed in Big Top-circus atmosphere.  The film, directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa ("I Love You Phillip Morris") displays, satirizes then turns the "rom-com" genre on its head where "Friends With Benefits" didn't, surprising with twists and turns.  The balls it juggles are awkward and misshapen but somehow land as perfect spheres.

Dan Fogelman's clever script has multiple stories: one about mid-life crises affecting a 25-year-marriage (between Julianne Moore and Steve Carell); one about a 17-year-old babysitter's infatuation with a member of a family she sits for, and a third about Ronnie (Jonah Bobo), a 13-year-old boy who dotes on the sitter.  Early on 40-something Cal (Mr. Carell) is rocked by Emily (Ms. Moore), who wants a divorce.  Cal mopes at a swanky bar.  Every night.  The bar's regular, a GQ playboy named Jacob (Ryan Gosling), has seen enough of Cal's misery.  Taking Cal on a Straight Eye For The Straight Guy tour, Jacob remodels him into the trendy, finely-tailored wardrobe and material accoutrements pined over or flaunted in many Hollywood romantic comedies. 

Cal wants what Jacob has: steady, instant access to women; a different woman every night.  Jacob, a smug Romeo, a throwback to Warren Beatty's lonely "Shampoo" man, appears to "have it all".  Dressed looking as if he's just walked off the set of a photo shoot, the wealthy, unemployed, thirtyish Jacob merely says, "I know what you're doing tonight" to a woman and the "Jerry Maguire" you-had-me-at-hello line doesn't get a cameo.  Jacob seduces on auto-pilot.  His suits, timing, delivery and confidence have the ladies eating out of his hands.  There's a funny but progressively numbing rote to Jacob and his act.

Like "Phillip Morris", which was based on a true story, "crazy, stupid, love." parodies homoeroticism while exhibiting bromantic savoir-faire.  Mr. Carell and Mr. Gosling are a funnier, sharper, updated "Rain Man" duo.  Jacob shows Cal how to get laid in L.A., minus any inherited rosebushes, though rosebushes are later glimpsed in another context.  Both actors do what you expect them to on terrain like this, yet you look closer and see something deeper and organic happening between them, as well as in the film's unfolding storylines. 

Mr. Carell ("Little Miss Sunshine", "Date Night", "Get Smart", "Dinner For Schmucks") has assumed the mantle Steve Martin enjoyed in the 80s and 90s: that of put-upon, angst-ridden juvenile man/father-knows-best, a man looking to stay intact in chaotic surroundings.  Mr. Gosling ("Blue Valentine") adapts to comedy well, playing a slick pretty-boy who skewers his own brand-name trappings.  He was excellent in "Lars And The Real Girl", a more offbeat film than this one, though here his comedy is lively.  Jacob is an extroverted twin of his Lars character.

At times "crazy, stupid, love." has a soft, seductive look made for speakeasy 1970s film fare.  When Jacob is unmasked as a figurative L.L. Cool J the occasion is sublime, in a manner befitting the bedroom talk of Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin, only warmer.  In the photo above, Jacob, with Hannah (Emma Stone), whom he tried seducing earlier, talks beyond pick-up lines in a scene Hollywood comedies no longer do: allow characters to simply speak openly and intelligently as characters, not as a function of plot. 

Steve Carell as Cal and Julianne Moore as Emily in "crazy, stupid, love."  Warner Brothers

So many films of this ilk cede precious time to gibberish ("How Do You Know") and hyper-exaggerated wailing ("Something's Gotta Give") but the scene I'm describing is one of the most sincere I've seen in a Hollywood romantic comedy in several years.  It's an intimate, tender showcase, mature and real.  As finely edited it evokes moments of past character-driven American romances on screen.  We actually get to know Jacob for two minutes beyond the cardboard caricature film device he's been previously advertised as.  It's the film's best scene: one that relaxes, pausing to breathe, and it exhales perfectly.

Mr. Ficarra and Mr. Requa wisely avoid minutiae, throwing facets of love and desire at us in playful doses through all three stories, each of which I won't delve into.  We need not know why Emily strays.  It doesn't matter.  Why do people cheat?  They want to, they can or there are other reasons.  The film is smart enough not to rationalize or cookie-cutter moralize; "crazy, stupid, love." has a heart as unruly and dedicated to its cause as any movie.  With meat on its funny bones "crazy, stupid, love." stays on course even as it wobbles, bounces and explodes. 

The comedy journeys through its Rolodex of diverse character types we're familiar with in madcap comedies: the gentle emasculator, the best friend, the unhinged parent, the fearful, insecure father.  The gang's all here.  Virtually all the characters chase impossible visions.  Some of the visions are fantasy, others "Graduate"-inspired.  (Also note: both the "crazy" and "Graduate" movie poster photos are dominated by a woman's leg, with a terrified or nonplussed man as about-to-be-ravaged specimen.)  Just as in the directors' "Phillip Morris", the characters of "crazy" never give up on their search for love.  They are hopeless, restless, fearless romantics.  Some of them are very physical characters, and "crazy, stupid, love." has a definite physicality and body language of its characters flowing through it.
Love is never neat and tidy, and "crazy, stupid, love." makes this point in spaghetti junction style, pulling its strands together from seemingly nothing.  Unrequited love, ironies, persistence and bouts of wildness make love and passion new, dangerous and heavenly, and Mr. Ficarra and Mr. Requa bring a fresh, independent-minded take to romance.  Love makes the world go round, and it makes the world go crazy (in a good way.)  This film celebrates love and all of its messy complications.  "Crazy, stupid, love." is a pure, true Valentine to romantic comedies, a genre it toasts enthusiastically.  This film isn't altogether new, though it avoids a few, not all of its clichés, and its conventions neither sully nor make it any less enjoyable.  "Crazy, stupid, love." attains balance as it ploughs through the familiar while showing us something a little different and mocking the comedy-romance trail it showcases then leaves behind. 

The film's bright energy is sustained by good acting.  The entire cast is great, especially Marisa Tomei.  She flat-out earns awards consideration for one funny and unsettling scene.  Ms. Tomei, who has already won an Oscar, helps round out larger characters and their situations so well, often doing so effortlessly in small supporting roles, whether in good films ("The Lincoln Lawyer", "The Wrestler", "In The Bedroom") or not-so good ones ("Cyrus", actually in a larger role.)  Ms. Stone is a lovable, enthusiastic presence, a good actress with star appeal written all over her.  Smart in "Easy A", funny in "Friends With Benefits" and great in next month's "The Help", Ms. Stone only gets better.  Ms. Moore skirts the edges of comedy adroitly, maintaining a dead-pan veneer.  She's so very good here.  Few convey the knots and tension of emotion and contain it as well as she does.   

"Crazy, stupid, love." chronicles love in all its head-spinning, logic-defying, gravity-challenging gyrations, taking me on a warm, heartfelt and joyful ride that I cherished.  It's a marvelously realized adventure that leaves you satisfied, entertained and all the better for having experienced it.

It bears repeating: "crazy, stupid, love." is crazy, stupid great.

With: Analeigh Tipton, Kevin Bacon, John Carroll Lynch, Liza Lapira, Josh Groban, Beth Littleford, Joey King, Mekia Cox, Julianna Guill.

"crazy, stupid, love." is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for coarse humor, sexual content and language.  The film's running time is one hour and 49 minutes.

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